A group of about 20 restaurants in Yokohama’s Chinatown launched a drive-thru on Wednesday as part of efforts to retain customers amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Customers who order by phone in advance can pick up hot meals from restaurants in a nearby parking lot, according to the Yokohama Chinatown Development Association, which owns some 400 restaurants and stores.
Association president Nobumasa Takahashi does not expect customer traffic to Yokohama’s Chinatown, Japan’s largest, to return to pre-pandemic levels in the coming year.
“We have to try a new way of doing business as we prepare for a post-coronavirus society,” said Takahashi, 61.
Even during the Golden Week holidays earlier this month, many businesses closed in the district, one of Japan’s three main Chinatowns along with Kobe and Nagasaki.
On May 4, Ye Yunxia, who works at Chinese restaurant Mankinro, said, “Our business has dried up, although now is the time when customers come the most.
Ye said the 300-seat restaurant was normally packed with customers during the annual vacation, but it closed earlier than usual this year and asked all of its more than 10 part-time employees to take days off. .
“There’s no one on the street in the first place,” Ye said.
The number of visitors to Chinatown began to decline in January when the first case of COVID-19 in Japan was confirmed, with a false rumor circulating that the patient was from the area.
In March, a number of restaurants in the popular tourist destination received hate messages accusing the Chinese of spreading the virus that causes pneumonia and telling them to “leave Japan soon.”
Following the incidents, Kaiinkaku, one of the targeted restaurants, temporarily attracted crowds of customers who wanted to show their support and cheer on its staff.
Still, the number of visitors to the region in March fell to about a tenth of its normal activity.
About 80% of the association’s member companies have remained closed since April. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared an initial state of emergency until May 6 covering seven prefectures with relatively high numbers of infections, including Tokyo, Osaka and Kanagawa, of which Yokohama is the capital.
(Yokohama’s Chinatown is deserted amid coronavirus fears on April 5, 2020)
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The declaration, asking people to stay at home as much as possible, was extended to 47 prefectures in mid-April.
It was then extended until May 31 and four member restaurants decided to cease operations, weighed down by labor costs and rents.
In an attempt to overcome the difficulties, the association has developed the common drive-thru service to reduce human-to-human contact and help reassure customers.
Takeshi Tsuruoka, president of Cantonese restaurant Kitcho, which has recorded a monthly deficit of over 1.5 million yen ($ 1,400) in recent months, expressed hope for the new style of trading,
“Since we want to increase sales in any way possible, I appreciate the new service because it’s not like delivery that requires extra work,” he said.